Joint Statement on a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between Australia and Malaysia
27 January 2021
Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, and Prime Minister of Malaysia, the Hon Muhyiddin Mohd Yassin, warmly welcomed the opportunity to hold the first Australia‐Malaysia Annual Leaders’ Meeting on 27 January 2021 via video conference.
Elevating the bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
The Leaders welcomed the excellent state of the bilateral relationship. Malaysia and Australia are long-standing friends and natural partners. Both countries share similar characteristics, interests and values, as multicultural, multi-faith and parliamentary democracies.
Malaysia and Australia have a shared history and look forward to a shared future. Relationships between the countries’ people began in the mid-19th century, well before diplomatic ties were established 65 years ago. In 2021, Malaysia and Australia will expand their cooperation to new horizons to address today and tomorrow’s most pressing challenges.
Recalling the elevation of relations to a Strategic Partnership in 2015 and in appreciation of the two countries’ close and growing ties, the Leaders agreed to elevate relations to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP).
The Leaders agreed the CSP will be underpinned by three areas of cooperation: economic prosperity; society and technology; and defence and regional security and guided by a Plan of Action developed and agreed between both countries.
The Leaders agreed to establish Annual Leaders’ Meetings (ALMs), of which this virtual meeting is the first. ALMs will formalise engagement at leaders’ level and ensure that a high ambition for the relationship is maintained across all sectors.
The Leaders noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had demonstrated the resilience and fortitude of the Australian and Malaysian people. As both countries seek to minimise the health, economic and social impacts of COVID-19, they underscored the importance of ongoing cooperation to support regional recovery.
The Leaders agreed to increase consultation and cooperation on strategic issues, including the multilateral system, the stability and security of the region, and economic security issues, including resilient supply chains. Both discussed the importance of multilateral cooperation and ensuring multilateral institutions are effective and accountable to the sovereign states that form them.
The Leaders pledged to uphold and support ASEAN centrality and ASEAN-led regional architecture, particularly the East Asia Summit as the region’s premier Leaders-led forum for discussion of strategic issues. They reaffirmed their support to intensify practical cooperation to enhance resilience and shape an open, inclusive and prosperous region of sovereign states. They agreed that ASEAN principles of openness, transparency, inclusivity and respect for international law, including the objectives and principles set out in ASEAN’s Outlook on the Indo‑Pacific, were essential ingredients of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific. They also acknowledged Australia’s enduring commitment to Southeast Asia, underscored by the package of approximately A$500 million in new economic, development and security initiatives to support Southeast Asia’s recovery from COVID-19, which builds on Australia’s existing
A$1 billion in development assistance to the region.
Prime Minister Morrison thanked Prime Minister Muhyiddin for Malaysia’s role as Australia’s ASEAN Country Coordinator for 2018-21. The region could look forward to continued cooperation and dialogue under the ASEAN-Australia Strategic Partnership. Both Leaders welcomed the decision to convene annual ASEAN-Australia Leaders’ summits, starting from 2021, achieved under Malaysia’s Country Coordinatorship for ASEAN-Australia relations. Prime Minister Morrison welcomed the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework proposed by Malaysia and subsequently adopted by ASEAN leaders during the 37th ASEAN Summit in November 2020.
Prime Minister Morrison congratulated Prime Minister Muhyiddin on Malaysia’s successful hosting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in 2020. Both Leaders welcomed the launch of the APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040 and the issuance of the 2020 Kuala Lumpur Declaration in November 2020.
1. Economic Prosperity
a. Trade and Investment
The Leaders expressed satisfaction at the strong two-way trade and investment relationship. They emphasised the importance of free trade and investment, as well as open economies and business-friendly policies.
They looked forward to deepening bilateral trade ties further during and in the recovery from COVID-19, by removing barriers that reduce trade and investment flows between both countries. The Leaders committed to maintaining the trade facilitative measures that were implemented during COVID-19, and for the rollback of trade restrictive measures as soon as possible.
The Leaders acknowledged the critical role of the Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement (MAFTA), the Agreement Establishing the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA), Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in providing new opportunities for businesses in both countries. These agreements, together with other international mechanisms, such as APEC and the World Trade Organization, will be able to continuously create a more stable, predictable and transparent trading and investment environment as well as business confidence in our strong economic relations. The Leaders recognised the importance of the remaining four Signatories, including Malaysia, ratifying and implementing the CPTPP. The Prime Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to upgrade AANZFTA and recognised the need to review MAFTA, which will ensure both FTAs remain fit-for-purpose as Australia and Malaysia’s economies change with time.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin welcomed Australia’s A$46 million commitment to assist with ASEAN’s implementation of RCEP and AANZFTA commitments through a Regional Trade for Development Initiative. Prime Minister Muhyiddin also welcomed Australia’s A$70 million in targeted support for infrastructure policy and regulatory reforms to support the region’s recovery and resilience.
The Leaders welcomed the commitments by both countries to have an annual engagement through the Joint Trade Committee Senior Officials’ Meeting as well as the biennial ministerial-level meeting of the Joint Trade Committee to discuss bilateral trade and economic issues. They also welcomed the commitment by both countries to regular dialogue on economic policy.
They affirmed their intention to further strengthen the Australia-Malaysia partnership on agricultural trade to enhance mutual food security, including through collaboration on halal standards, streamlining approvals for exporters and working towards the adoption of paperless trading.
b. Digital economy
The Leaders noted digital trade and digital innovation will be vital to driving economic recovery. They welcomed that, through an Australia-Malaysia Tech Exchange Memorandum of Understanding on digital collaboration, signed on 10 December 2020, both countries will continue to drive digital transformation. They reaffirmed continuing collaboration, including in regional and multilateral forums, to reduce barriers to digital trade and promote consistent and open digital trade rules in the region.
c. Resumption of travel
The Leaders underlined the importance of resuming cross-border travel to facilitate economic recovery and reinvigorate people-to-people links. They expressed the desire to make concrete progress in discussions on the procedures necessary for facilitating the resumption of cross-border travel, when health conditions permit.
2. Society and Technology
a. People to people links and education
The Leaders agreed that the people of Australia and Malaysia enjoy close ties, built over decades through exchanges in education, tourism, business and migration. They noted that in 2019, Malaysia was Australia's eighth-largest source country for international arrivals, with almost 385,000 Malaysians visiting Australia and over 368,000 Australians visiting Malaysia. Both looked forward to continuing to strengthen people-to-people connections through the Australia now program in Malaysia in 2021.
The Leaders acknowledged that several hundred thousand Malaysian students have studied in Australia since independence, with more than 24,000 studying in Australia in 2019, and a further 20,000 Malaysian and international students studying for Australian qualifications in Malaysia. They expressed their desire to see the continued exchange of students and academics, and agreed to renew cooperation on vocational education and training, online higher education delivery and quality assurance, qualifications recognition and research collaboration. They committed to enhancing cooperation and reducing barriers to trade in education services.
b. Sports and youth
Acknowledging the importance of youth in developing our societies, both Leaders looked forward to reviewing the 2011 Memorandum of Understanding on co-operation in the field of sports, with a view to expanding its scope to include youth empowerment.
c. Science, technology and innovation
The Leaders recognised that open and collaborative science and innovation will play an important role in driving sustainable economic growth. They agreed to explore cooperation on marine plastics, waste management and the circular economy. They acknowledged the importance of technology in responding to climate change and other environmental challenges, and agreed to continue to explore low emissions solutions. They also agreed to explore collaboration on emissions reporting and inventory arrangements, environmental monitoring and enforcement, climate science and bushfire mitigation measures.
The Leaders reaffirmed that both countries will continue to collaborate on science and technology through multilateral and regional mechanisms, including the APEC Policy Partnership on Science Technology and Innovation and the ASEAN-Australia Strategic Partnership.
Recognising the pervasive impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, the Leaders agreed to build on existing health cooperation through regional and multilateral organisations.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin welcomed Australia’s A$500 million Vaccine and Health Security initiative to support access to safe and effective vaccines for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. The Leaders agreed that Malaysia and Australia would continue to cooperate in support of regional COVID-19 responses, and initiatives to keep supply chains open for COVID-19 related goods and services, including in ASEAN-led platforms and APEC, to help drive recovery in the region.
The Leaders commended the global efforts to develop and deliver safe, efficacious and affordable vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics for COVID-19, including through the COVAX Facility, co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organization (WHO). They welcomed Malaysia’s incoming membership of the WHO Executive Board from mid‑2021 and Australia’s advocacy as Vice Chair of the Gavi Board. They looked forward to supporting the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases. Prime Minister Muhyiddin welcomed Australia’s A$21 million commitment to this important initiative.
The Leaders reaffirmed their commitment to creating a healthy information environment at the national, regional and global levels, in which the COVID-19 infodemic of mis- and dis-information is countered by scientific, evidenced-based information and facts.
The Leaders recognised the COVID-19 pandemic already has and will continue to have profound mental health consequences. They agreed to share information on best practices and programs to minimise and address the mental health consequences arising from the pandemic.
3. Defence and Regional Security
The Leaders reaffirmed their commitment to an open, inclusive, prosperous and secure region, defined by respect for sovereignty, independence and international law. They emphasised the ongoing importance of the Malaysia-Australia Joint Defence Program and looked forward to upcoming opportunities to advance cooperation, including during the 50th anniversary of the Five Power Defence Arrangements in 2021 in Malaysia.
a. Defence cooperation
The Leaders welcomed each other’s support and commitment to continue longstanding bilateral defence cooperation and the formalisation of an annual Defence Ministers’ High-Level Committee, noting the third iteration will be hosted by Malaysia in 2021, and looked forward to enhancing engagement between defence education institutions of both sides.
b. Maritime cooperation
The Leaders expressed the shared aspiration of Malaysia and Australia, as two maritime nations facing the Indian and Pacific Oceans, for a peaceful, stable and prosperous maritime domain. They emphasised their support for a rules-based maritime order underpinned by adherence to international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as the legal framework for the oceans and seas.
The Prime Ministers welcomed the extensive cooperation between Australia and Malaysia in the maritime domain, and agreed to strengthen dialogue on bilateral maritime cooperation and shared maritime interests. The Leaders encouraged officials to further explore and enhance capacity building programs within existing platforms.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin welcomed Australia’s commitment of A$65 million for regional maritime states to develop marine resources sustainably and address marine challenges through enhanced training, technical advice and cooperation.
The Leaders expressed serious concerns about developments in the South China Sea and emphasised the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation and overflight in accordance with international law, and promoting maritime safety and security. They further emphasised the need for all States to comply with international law, including UNCLOS.
c. Counter-people smuggling
The Leaders reaffirmed their commitment to countering people smuggling and human trafficking, acknowledging these transnational crimes require close cooperation bilaterally, regionally and multilaterally and noting that COVID-19 has increased vulnerability. Prime Minister Morrison thanked Prime Minister Muhyiddin for Malaysia’s active participation for almost two decades in the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime.
The Leaders condemned, in the strongest possible terms, terrorism and violent extremism in all forms. They committed to enhance cooperation to counter terrorism and thwart the ongoing threat of these abhorrent crimes in the region. They agreed that the two countries will continually refresh their existing counter-terrorism frameworks to reflect the maturity of bilateral cooperation and advance cooperation on counter-terrorism financing and anti-money laundering, the management of returning foreign terrorist fighters and strategies for preventing and countering violent extremism.
The Prime Ministers extended their condolences to the victims of all terrorist acts and called for members of the international community to unite in promoting mutual respect and rejecting any commentary that seeks to divide communities and justify violence. The Leaders called on media outlets and online service providers to take transparent, specific measures seeking to prevent the upload of terrorist and violent extremist content and to prevent its dissemination on social media and similar content-sharing services. The Leaders noted that service providers are further encouraged to provide assistance to law enforcement in identifying and tracking violent extremists operating online.
e. Cyber security and critical technology
The Leaders discussed the opportunities afforded by digital connectivity and the cyber domain, as well as the shared and rapidly evolving challenges. Noting both countries released national cyber security strategies in 2020, they announced their intention to establish a new Memorandum of Understanding on cyber security and critical technology in 2021, which will underpin the full scope of bilateral cooperation on cyber affairs. The Leaders also discussed the importance of countering disinformation in cyber space and in the public domain, which the COVID-19 pandemic has made an urgent task for all democracies. Prime Minister Muhyiddin welcomed Australia’s investment of A$13 million to support regional partners to work with technology standards-setting bodies, in order to help regional economies take advantage of technological development for the future and have a voice in emerging technology architecture.
f. Disaster and emergency management
The Leaders recognised the inescapable and often terrible nature of disaster events and emergencies. They reflected that Malaysia and Australia have mourned together during times of adversity and shared each other’s grief during the disappearance of MH370 and the downing of MH17. Prime Minister Morrison thanked Prime Minister Muhyiddin for Malaysia’s generous offer to provide specialist assistance during Australia’s 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires. Both Leaders reaffirmed their commitment to assist each other, within their countries’ capacities, in providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and committed to continue and enhance cooperation in disaster risk reduction and emergency management.
g. Transnational crime
The Leaders acknowledged Malaysia and Australia’s close and growing ties on national security and law enforcement matters. They noted that Kuala Lumpur is the Australian Federal Police’s oldest overseas presence, and the policing relationship with the Royal Malaysia Police is strong and enduring. The Leaders agreed to a new Senior Officers’ dialogue between the Australian Federal Police Commissioner and the Malaysian Inspector General of Police, which will deepen cooperation on a wide range of crime types affecting both countries, including counter-terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering and other transnational organised crime.
The Leaders affirmed that Australian and Malaysian law-enforcement counterparts, including border security agencies, would also work in close partnership to enhance inter-agency cooperation and capacity building to target transnational and organised crime. These activities will improve the effective and timely sharing of information and intelligence and joint operational activity to detect and disrupt serious harms to our communities.
The Leaders noted that 2020 marked more than a decade of formal engagement through the Australia-Malaysia Civil Maritime Security Working Group, and looked forward to a future iteration of Australia and Malaysia’s joint civil maritime training exercise, Operation Redback, taking place in Australia.
27 January 2021